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Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Iraq uncensored.

Part of the way that Dubya's administration has fought the war in Iraq is by controlling the images of that war that the US public sees. Remembering how uncensored photos and video from Vietnam helped erode support for that bloody and unnecessary war, the Pentagon and Defense Department have tried to channel as many photojournalists as possible into its 'embedded journalist' program, in which journalists are offered getting access to the front lines with US units in return for giving up a certain amount of control over what they're able to write about or photograph.

Many journalists have turned down this devil's bargain and have decided to go it alone in Iraq. Despite the problems and obvious dangers, staying independent is the only way they feel that the real story of the Iraq war can be told. A new book, Unembedded, showcases the work of four photojournalists who've chosen this path: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Kael Alford, Thorne Anderson and Rita Leistner. What we've seen of their work is powerful and heart-wrenching. At the risk of repeating a cliché, everyone who cares about what happens in Iraq should read this book.

Psychiatric patient in Baghdad

RASHAD PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL, BAGHDAD, APRIL 17, 2004: A young patient, newly arrived from the southern Shiite town of Karbala, pleads to go home: "I don't belong here. Please don't make me spend the rest of my life here." [Photo © 2005 Rita Leistner]

From the foreward by veteran war photojournalist Philip Jones Griffiths:

Photographers bearing irrefutable images pose difficulties for those in Washington who work on the principal that you can indeed fool most of the people most of the time. An eloquently captured view of the war in Iraq was feared by Washington insiders, who predicted that the truth could become a major problem. The entire Iraq misadventure, based on lies and deception, required a compliant media for support, and so a deal was struck.

Even loyal handmaidens can feel slighted, as did the major news media when they were prevented from covering Grenada, Panama, and the Gulf War in depth. The hollow excuse was that the press was to blame for the United States losing the Vietnam War. This lie eventually led to the currently accepted restrictions. So, for the American war on Iraq, a compromise was reached in which some seven hundred newsmen (and a few women) would be "embedded" with military units. For most of the media, the chance to get close to the action overrode professional judgement and the truth: a provision of the contract that journalists had to sign gave the military control over the output of an embedded newsman. Then there came the rugged training: reporters and photographers climbed ropes, lifted weights, crawled on their bellies, and trekked for miles.

Once in Iraq, these "trained" reporters became pawns of the military machine. Soldiers were armed with plastic cards printed with a list of answers to be parroted out if the media questioned them. "We are a values-based, people-focused team that strives to uphold the dignity and respect of all" was one answer that must have confused the relatives of those people held in Abu Ghraib! Pentagon officials had already spelled out what "embedding for life" meant: "living, eating, moving in combat with the unit that you're attached to. If you decide to make the decision that you're no longer interested in the unit that you're with or you've covered them sufficiently, of course you can say, 'I want to try to retrograde back and leave the unit that I'm with.' But once you do that, there are no guarantees that you'll get another opportunity with that unit or necessarily even with another unit. . . . That's what I am talking about when I say a newsman 'embeds for life.'"

A photojournalist assigned to a unit that had seen little action noticed a firefight nearby. He asked the officer in charge if he could wander over to take pictures. He was told, "When you leave us you can never come back." The photographer decided to stay....

The fearless photographers in this book chose to retain their independence and objectivity rather than drag the second oldest profession down to the level of the oldest one. This choice led to a problem for the authors: how to get their photographs published in magazines that mainly run pictures reminiscent of Army recruiting posters. The one hundred thousand or so dead Iraqis are the invisible "others" whose corpses are never allowed to sully the pages of magazines dedicated to the trivial pursuit of gossip and celebrity chitchat....

This book is an antidote to the pap served to the American public, and it will increase in importance over time, because the hired revisionist historians will spread their lies for years to come.

Your grandchildren will appreciate this book, as will their grandchildren.

You can see more photos from the book here.

You can purchase Unembedded from the publisher here or from Powell's Books here.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:02 AM | Get permalink

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